Tales from the Trail

The “likability” factor

By Gabriel Debenedetti
October 2, 2012

Is Mitt Romney “likable enough”? The eve of the first 2012 presidential debate is a good time to revisit that concept, made famous in an exchange between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton during a primary debate in 2008.

The answer, based on Reuters/Ipsos polls, is bad news for the Republican nominee.

It’s not just that, as anyone who has followed this race knows, President Obama claims a majority of respondents on the question, “Which candidate is more likable?” – 52 percent among men and 51 percent among women. What must concern the Romney campaign is how low the favorable response to that question is for their candidate. At 24 percent for men and women, it is lower even than the combined number of “neithers” and “don’t knows.”

The same pattern holds for the question, “Who would be most fun to meet in person?” Men chose Obama by 48 percent, women by 47, while Romney’s numbers – 21 percent of men and 19 percent of women – evoke the popular phrase, “They’re just not that into you.”

One of Romney’s challenges in Wednesday’s debate is to generate some warm and fuzzy feelings as he defends his policy positions and attacks his opponent. Reuters/Ipsos polling on Thursday will determine whether the number of voters eager to share a non-caffeinated beverage with the former Massachusetts governor takes a significant jump overnight.

Post-debate polling will also gauge whether Romney has moved the needle on two other questions that may influence voters. On one – “Which candidate is more eloquent?” – Romney trails Obama, 21 percent to 49 percent. On the other – “Which candidate is more presidential?” – Obama leads 45 percent to 30 percent.

It’s little wonder that debate prep has been a high priority for the Romney campaign, which has brought in Rob Portman, the Ohio senator who was on Romney’s short list of vice-presidential prospects, to play Obama in rehearsals.

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